June 24, 2024


In times gone by, lawyers would spend hours poring over documents and huge amounts of time and energy on research. But for many of today’s law firms, those days are coming to an end. The landscape is being revolutionised, thanks to exciting new technology and automation.

Artificial intelligence tools can now help shoulder the burden of the kind of work that drains lawyers’ time — from reviewing documents and due diligence checks, to drafting legal documents and carrying out legal research. In 2021, Oxford University estimated that around half of all solicitors in England and Wales were using at least one form of AI-assisted lawtech (specialised solutions for the legal sector). 

And generative AI has the potential to make even greater strides in our legal sector. With the advent of increasingly advanced programmes — like ChatGPT and other large language models — we can see just how much power they have to understand and generate meaningful responses to complex questions.

It gives us a tantalising glimpse into the future. Just think of the potential this could offer to law firms when it comes to improving access to legal services — reducing the time and costs from previously labour-intensive work.

Lawtech UK

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Each new advancement brings the possibility of faster, smarter, more effective working, freeing up lawyers’ time to focus on the things that really require their expertise. Above all, it’s a real opportunity to make legal services more accessible for the public as they navigate a world of legal rights. That’s a win for law firms, but most of all, it’s a win for those needing their services.

So, now we are in a new and exciting phase of experimentation and exploration. It’s a huge area of interest for the Government, and for me as Justice Minister, as we do even more to improve access to legal services for people in this country.

In the past decade the UK has quickly become a world-leader in lawtech and we want to help our innovators to continue to grow.

In 2019, we set up LawtechUK as an industry-led programme to support the growth of the lawtech industry in the UK. Now in its second phase, and headed up by CodeBase and Legal Geek, it has been a huge success. Backed by £6 million of funding from 2019 up to 2025, it is a cause close to my heart — one I’m incredibly proud of.

We’re also helping our lawtechs promote and sell their products in international markets. The Ministry of Justice’s GREAT Legal Services campaign and Department for Business and Trade have helped UK lawtech make business connections across the world — including high-potential markets like Singapore, Australia, and the US. The GREAT campaign promotes a variety of UK legal services, and in the last financial year helped to generate more than £6 million in projected business wins for UK lawyers, and over 60 business leads.

Lawtech startups leading the way

The sector is going from strength to strength with each new development. Take Harvey AI, which is using natural language processing, machine learning, and data analytics to automate and enhance various aspects of legal work, such as contract analysis, litigation, and regulatory compliance. Genie AI has created a tool for drafting contracts, drawing on extensive data to suggest clauses. And Summize offers legal contract lifecycle management and generates internal summaries of contracts to assist lawyers. 

RobinAI has created a machine learning model using data from over 4 million legal documents, enabling users to draft and negotiate contacts as much as 80% faster while saving people up to 75% of their legal fees. And Legl has integrate a generative AI layer to enhance client due diligence, reducing complexity, and speeding up the collection of information to reduce the amount of data to be assessed by professionals.

The benefits extend far beyond more efficient legal services. A report from the Solicitors Regulation Authority estimated that AI could add as much as £630 billion to the economy by 2035. And it could create upwards of 14 million new jobs by 2027, as more firms bring in tech specialists and upskill teams — so collaboration and support for businesses really is key.

Isambard-AI

It’s why we’re investing in a world-leading AI Research Resource in Bristol, backed by a £900 million fund, to turbocharge scientific discovery and keep the UK at the forefront of AI development. The Isambard-AI cluster will be one of the most powerful supercomputers in Europe, helping industry experts and researchers harness the game-changing potential of AI.

But amid all this growth and innovation, we have to consider risk if we’re to fully capitalise on the benefits of generative AI. We need appropriate regulation that allows innovation while protecting users.  

We also need transparency in the systems we create, because if we can’t understand how a decision has been made, how can we explain it or trust it in our services? And we need reliable data to draw from and to avoid the risk of bias and discrimination, so that users feel safe to manage information in line with GDPR and data privacy regulation.  

Supporting startups in navigating regulation

The Government is fully behind this work, identifying AI as one of five critical technologies essential for making the UK a global science and technology superpower.

Just last month, LawtechUK brought together lawyers, technologists, regulators, and other experts to explore what generative AI means for the legal sector and how it can benefit consumers of legal services. They are now leading on work to understand how this technology is being used across the country, mapping out areas of work to improve collaboration and truly grasp its potential. And LawtechUK’s Regulatory Response Unit is bringing together regulators into a single, fast response forum to support startups navigating the regulatory landscape.  

And that’s not all. The new Office for Artificial Intelligence is developing a pro-innovation regulatory framework to address risk without stifling growth. This will be underpinned by five principles which guide and inform the responsible development and use of AI.

Ethically future-proofing legal services

Ultimately all innovation carries risk, and Generative AI raises many ethical, social, and practical concerns. But it’s a risk we’re determined to manage. That’s why our Frontier AI Taskforce is helping evaluate the risks of AI, and the UK hosted a global AI Safety Summit last week.

What we can’t risk is our world class legal services sector getting left behind as others surge forward on the rising tide of AI. By gripping the issues, and encouraging safe adoption — we can future-proof our legal services without compromising on ethics, accuracy, and quality.

And as a long-standing legal services world leader, there’s no place we’d rather be than leading the charge on this exciting new lawtech.



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